07/21/13 2:30pm
07/21/2013 2:30 PM

COURTESY PHOTO | Brian Kelly of East End Tick Control counting ticks after ‘flagging’ a customer’s yard.

After servicing a pool in Wading River last week, Sean Lanigan of Lanco Pool Services found himself covered in ticks, a surprise to him since he’d been in the customer’s backyard only a few minutes.

“They were so hard to find, you didn’t even realize they were ticks. You think it’s a piece of dirt until you see it’s moving on your finger,” Mr. Lanigan said. “I had about 20 all over me.”

This, apparently, is the new normal on the East End.

“Tick numbers are significantly higher on Eastern Long Island from what they were two decades ago, and lone star [ticks], in particular, appear to be spreading westward,” said Daniel Gilrein, an entomologist at Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Lone star ticks are in their nymph stage this time of year, meaning they are very tiny and difficult to see, explained Brian Kelly, owner of East End Tick Control, which services homes across the East End.

This season, he said, the ticks are out in “unbelievable” numbers, making it important to safeguard yourself and your home.

COURTESY PHOTO | Lone star ticks are in their nymph stage at this time of the season.

The experts say homeowners can take a number of steps to safeguard their yards – beginning with what’s called “flagging for ticks,” to see if there are concentrations of ticks on a property — and where they’re located.

To flag for ticks, simply take a white sheet and attach it to a stick, as you would a flag to a pole, Mr. Gilrein said.

“Something with a bit of nap would be best,” he said, like corduroy. “Perhaps flannel would be a good alternative”

Slowly drag the flag across the lawn and bush edges — wherever you think the ticks might be — and then turn it over to see how many ticks the flag picked up.

“Sometimes it’s just a couple, sometimes maybe 50 to 60 ticks,” Mr. Kelly said.

The ticks will stand out against the light-colored fabric.

Mr. Kelly recommends wearing high rubber boots with pants legs tucked in while flagging. Use a good repellent as well, he said.

Lots of ticks means it’s time to clean up the yard, the experts say. Start by removing leaves, brush and weeds from the lawn’s edge and the home’s perimeter. If you have swings or play sets, pull them away from the property’s edge, and at least 15 feet from any woods. Be sure to clean up any brush around children’s play areas.

If possible, restrict use of ground cover vegetation – like pachysandra and ivy, Mr. Kelly said. Mice and chipmunks, which often carry ticks, use those areas to feel protected.

“It almost turns into a tick condominium,” Mr. Kelly said.

“Trimming your trees and letting sunlight on your lawn makes a big difference with the ticks,” he added.

While Mr. Gilrein warns that lone star ticks like both sunny and shaded areas — unlike deer ticks, which tend to hang out in the shade — both say keeping the lawn cut short is important.

If homeowners are still having trouble keeping tick populations down after sprucing up their properties, Mr. Kelly said there both synthetic and organic insecticide options are available.

Synthetic options usually last about 30 days, he said, while organic options tend to take out the ticks only at the time of the application.

Mr. Lanigan said he checks himself every time he leaves a customer’s yard now, and that he also often finds ticks inside boots.

“I’ve caught about 60 ticks on me so far this year, and normally I have 10 the whole year,” Mr. Lanigan said. “I would get your backyard sprayed.”

He added that even though you might leave a property tick-free, that doesn’t necessarily mean man’s best friend is OK.

“Don’t forget to check your dogs, too,” he said.

cmiller@timesreview.com

05/05/13 9:00am
05/05/2013 9:00 AM

CORNELL COOPERATIVE EXTENSION COURTESY PHOTO | The connection between the red meat allergy and the lone star tick (pictured) went undiscovered until 2009.

It was Super Bowl Sunday. The Seattle Seahawks were playing the Pittsburgh Steelers and Gary Knox was kicking back, enjoying the game with friends. There was a hearty spread, complete with mini sausages smothered in barbecue sauce, a southern guy’s delight. It seemed luck was on his side; his beloved Steelers took the title. Mr. Knox, then 25, headed home, calling it a night about 9.

“My much-needed rest was interrupted around 3 a.m.,” recalled Mr. Knox, of White Hall, Ark. “I awoke with severe stomach cramps, difficulty breathing, and a feeling that my face was on fire,” he said. He had a rapid heart rate and was suffering from diarrhea. His body was covered in hives.

“I took Benadryl, then called 911,” Mr. Knox said.

After Mr. Knox was packed into the back of an ambulance, a paramedic checked his blood pressure.

“The paramedic shook his head. He said, ‘That can’t be right,’ ” Mr. Knox recalled.

His blood pressure was 54 over 31, incredibly low. His heart rate was an alarming 203, incredibly high.

“I was going into anaphylactic shock,” he said.

Mr. Knox has been dealing with allergic reactions since he was 13, when he developed an allergy to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose — more commonly known as alpha gal, a carbohydrate found in red meat. But what makes the allergy unique, experts say, is that people aren’t born with it. They contract the condition from a tick — specifically the lone star tick.

“It’s such a classic story,” Dr. Erin McGintee, an allergist at ENT Allergy & Associates in Riverhead, said of Mr. Knox’s ordeal. “People eat a meat dinner at 7 p.m., and they wake up at two in the morning with symptoms. They can get anything from hives and itchiness, to abdominal pain, to a full blown anaphylactic reaction. I’ve had patients lose consciousness from it.”

Dr. McGintee currently has 62 patients on the East End dealing with the red meat allergy.

The tick bite triggers the production of antibodies that target the alpha gal carbohydrate, she said. When people who have developed the allergy eat red meat, she explained, the newly formed antibodies produce a histamine response to the alpha gal carbohydrate, causing inflammation and an allergic reaction. The carbohydrate is not found in fish or poultry, so those with the allergy can still enjoy some types of meat.

Experts are still researching why the entire phenomenon happens.

The lone star tick, once found largely in the southeastern U.S., is now one of the most common ticks on the East End, said Dan Gilrein, an entomologist with the Cornell Cooperative Extension.

“[The lone star tick] was first documented in Montauk in 1971, but it really hadn’t become much of a problem until the 90s,” Mr. Gilrein said. “It’s now really the dominant species in many areas.”

The lone star tick, named for a single white spot on the adult female’s back, is out and about now and will be around through September, he said. And unlike the deer tick, which likes wooded shade, lone star ticks seem to like a range of habitats, from woods to bare fields to low grasses, and sunny and shady areas alike. Adult lone star ticks are brown or dark brown. Females tend to be larger, with a sole white dot centered on their backs. Males tend to be a bit smaller, with several white dots across their backs, Mr. Gilrein said.

In late June, the eggs will be hatching, releasing lone star ticks in their larval stage.

“The larvae are about the size of a pin head. When you encounter them, it could be dozens to hundreds,” Mr. Gilrein said.

People commonly confuse larval lone star tick bites with “chigger” bites, said Dr. John Byrne, an allergist with Allergy & Immunology in Riverhead, who also has several patients with the allergy. According to Mr. Gilrein, if you believe you have been bitten by chiggers in the past, it could have been lone star tick bites, because chiggers are not found on Long Island.

“Larval ticks are really just tiny little things, and they are very itchy when they bite,” he said.

The connection between the allergy and the lone star tick went undiscovered until 2009, when a group of University of Virginia researchers began looking into the allergy.

“The truth is that we were just searching for a geographical explanation that would overlay with where we were seeing our patients,” said Dr. Scott Commins, allergy and clinical immunology physician at University of Virginia.

“We kept coming back to the distribution of Rocky Mountain spotted fever,” which has been long known to be transmitted through lone start tick bites, he said. “It was in the same places as patients with this allergy. We started asking about tick bites and found this amazing correlation.”

He and a team of researchers are trying to better understand the alpha gal allergy, which experts still know very little about. They are conducting an ongoing study, gathering information from several allergists across the region, including Dr. McGintee.

“It gives us a sense that this a much bigger issue than we first thought,” Dr. Commins said. “We probably know of close to 2,000 total cases between these places,” he said, adding that the patients in the study are likely just a fraction of cases nationwide. More recently researchers have been looking at children who have developed the allergy, he said.

“We don’t know why certain people develop the allergy,” Dr. McGintee said. Not everyone does, and there seems to be a genetic component, she said.

“It can go away, but it can also come back, which makes it different from other food allergies,” she said. “It is a changing allergy.”

Local experts say the allergy is very different from those they typically see.

“Almost all food allergies occur in response to protein,” Dr. McGintee said. “The kooky thing about this is it’s in response to a carbohydrate.”

Dr. Byrne said some “interesting” discoveries may yet come, “when we find out what the tick’s salivary substance is and how it induces this allergy,” said Dr. Byrne.

Until the allergy is better understood, Mr. Gilrein advises using repellent and checking oneself after being outdoors.

“Don’t let the ticks have the last say,” he said. “Just be more careful about it, that’s all.”

The Cornell Cooperative has a diagnostics lab in Riverhead that will identify ticks for a small fee. The lab can be contacted at 727-4126. Ticks can be mailed to the lab or dropped off.

As for Mr. Knox’s ordeal after the Super Bowl, although he survived after treatment in a trauma unit, the now-32-year-old says it was the worst reaction he has experienced. He now carries an emergency kit, complete with a self-injectable epinephrine pen in case of a future reaction. The sausage, which he was told was made of turkey, turned out to be a mixture of turkey and pork, which despite “the other white meat” slogan, contains alpha gal and is, in this regard, a red meat.

cmiller@timesreview.com

10/18/12 8:00am
10/18/2012 8:00 AM

COURTESY PHOTO | Jen Stress, a former program assistant with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, drags a flagging cloth through a field to survey area tick numbers.

East Enders who have suffered with Lyme and other tick-borne diseases had their chance Oct. 10 to voice their frustrations to a new county task force charged with coming up with concrete steps to control the spread of the diseases.

Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine convened the 16-member Tick & Vector-Borne Disease Task Force earlier this fall in an attempt to focus on the health crisis facing the East End.

During the committee’s public hearing at the Southold Recreation Center in Peconic last Wednesday, task force members got an earful from people who have suffered for years from chronic Lyme Disease, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and other serious illnesses.

Many in attendance said they’ve had difficulty getting doctors to take their chronic symptoms seriously and put them on the long-term antibiotics they need to go about their lives.

Still others told stories of years — and sometimes decades — of misdiagnoses before their illness was correctly identified as Lyme disease.

“The insurance companies don’t want to pay for it …. Doctors that know what to do and have the guts to do it are afraid,” said Sue Ulrich of Shirley. “You don’t need any of those degrees to know you are sick.”

“If you’re a tourist, you should come here in a tank and don’t get out,” said Ugo Polla of Cutchogue, adding that ticks abound in vineyards and other tourist destinations. “Have the wine delivered, drink it and get out,” he said.

“It seems like we just keep studying these things. We need action,” said Hugh Switzer of Peconic. “We need support for our supervisor and board for actions necessary to get rid of deer. We have friends who no longer want to visit with us. They say, ‘Why would I want to come if every time I go outside I have to check for ticks?’ Our children won’t bring our grandchildren to see us.”

Numerous people told the task force horror stories of their children’s lives after they were bitten by ticks.

Jen Brown of North Haven told the task force that her son was first bitten by a tick at age 2. Now 5, he has been through weeks of hospitalization and has had more than a thousand brain seizures.

“He’s currently so fragile the infection cannot be treated because of the seizures,” she said.

Dr. John Rasweiler, a retired medical school professor who studied mammalian biology, said “deer are a terrible, terrible problem.”

Dr. Rasweiler, who serves on the town’s deer management committee, said last year only 382 of the approximately 10,000 deer in Southold were killed by hunters.

“I’m sorry. It’s just not cutting the mustard,” he said of Southold’s deer hunting program.

Dr. Rasweiler suggested that car insurance companies could pay for more aggressive deer management programs through a special surcharge on local car insurance bills. He said he had researched the cost of deer-related car accidents, which he estimated at about $200 million in New York State each year.

“This could pay for the program, and in the process take care of the problem with ticks and environmental damage” caused by deer, he said.

Supervisor Scott Russell said that in order to have a truly effective deer hunt, he needs the state to change the law to allow hunters to bait deer.

He said he has been pressuring local representatives in the state Legislature to introduce such a bill. Once it’s introduced, he said, he’d like Southold residents to launch a letter writing and phone call campaign in support of the measure.

“We have the hunters, the [meat] cooler and wildlife butchers. We need legislation allowing us to bait,” he said. “We need to have some flexibility at the state level.”

byoung@timesreview.com

10/18/12 7:59am

You’ve got to feel just a bit sorry for the members of County Legislator Ed Romaine’s tick task force, which held its first local public hearing in Peconic last week.

As the story on page 3 of this week’s edition points out, the group’s members spoke little but heard a lot. The information passed on to them was far from new — people suffering over the years with a variety of debilitating tick-borne diseases, not just the universally known and feared Lyme disease.

The question is what to do with it all.

Ticks are everywhere — in fields, forests, farms and our own backyards. Some are nearly impossible to see, but their bites can cause maladies impossible to ignore. The burgeoning deer population most often gets the blame but, like it or not, the deer will always be with us.

Hunting alone won’t cull the herd enough to make a measurable difference, nor will adding contraceptives to feeding stations. In favorable conditions — and the one fact that has become all too clear is the East End with its farms and lawns and tasty (to deer, anyway) gardens and shrubs offers ideal conditions — a deer herd can increase by 40 percent a year.

Tests of the “4-Poster” tick control system on Shelter Island, which gives a dose of insecticide to deer dining at a feeding station, has shown that approach can work, but the idea has yet to catch on with local governments. That’s not surprising, since each of the Shelter Island 4-Posters cost $5,000 a year to maintain and fears persist that potentially harmful pesticides might find their way into the environment and the food chain.

As Southold Town discovered in creating its deer management program, hunting restrictions are the state’s purview and the state shows absolutely no interest in relaxing hunting restrictions in populated areas.

That’s why we feel a bit sorry for the tick task force. Theirs seems an impossible task and, not to prejudge, but there’s absolutely nothing to be gained by the release of a report concluding that the problem is serious and something should be done about it.

That became all too obvious many years ago.